The third anniversary of the Syrian conflict was marked with vigils around the world, with humanitarian groups calling for an end to the bloodshed and taking account of the destruction.Alongside the rising death toll, cities have been reduced to rubble – three million buildings destroyed – while half of Syria’s children are missing out on school, UNICEF told us this week.
What’s happening in the ground war is still astonishing, as the Telegraph’s Richard Spencer reported this week from Aleppo. The headline on his grim and granular testimony: the psychopaths are unstoppable.
“You do not see the full horror of this war, I can assure you…this is the best documented war of all time, but curiously that has only made it the more unstoppable,” he wrote.
There were pivot points designed to end the conflict, but they’ve been thwarted by circumstance and a lack of political will. Peace talks in Geneva have since gone quiet, with no sign of reconvening. The U.S.-Russian diplomacy running in parallel has now been compromised by the showdown over Ukraine. This weekend’s escalation in Crimea has effectively locked Moscow and Washington in a diplomatic battle. That doesn’t bode well for Russian cooperation in Syria; before the Ukrainian flare-up, it was hoped that Russia would flex its influence to engineer a transition of power in Damascus. Russia remains one of President Bashar al Assad’s most important backers, next to Iran and Hezbollah.
Within Syria, the prospect of a Syrian election has been a turning point of its own; at one point it offered the slim hope of change, some wiggle room for the regime to shift toward a new political array.
Now even that slim hope seems dashed. After much speculation the government announced its plans to hold a presidential poll in June or July. Analysts expect that Assad will run and likely win, given the lack of alternative candidates (Syria’s parliament just set new election rules which effectively bar opposition leaders outside the country from running).
Without any step toward reconciliation, an Assad reelection could leave the country even more polarized.
“If and when President Assad becomes a candidate, then it’s very difficult in moving ahead in the Geneva peace process,” said the U.N.’s Syria Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, as cited in the New York Times.
An Assad re-election would signal that he’s ready to play (and expects to win) a very different game than the U.S. and its Western allies would like to see. In his political outlook and calculus, he would remain the legitimate leader of Syria, with enough control over enough terrain to keep his government in power. The bloody status quo would remain, with jihadi rebels taking firmer root and opposition areas pounded into submission.
If you’re looking for any lasting signs of hope, look at Syrians themselves. This week we featured them inventing alternative energy solutions to cuts in power and fighting to bring education to their communities. With no solution to the crisis from the outside world, Syrians are building their own small-scale fixes on the ground.